Archive for the ‘Features’ Category

Kazoo! Fest: Day 4 & 5 (12/04/14, 13/04/14)

April 14th, 2014 | Features | 0 Comments

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Saturday was the most action-packed day of the festival, so let’s get right in.

After waking up groggily, eating some bread & hummus and doing a quick workout, I made my way over to the Kazoo! Print Expo for the last hour (it ended at 3:00 pm). It was a pretty standard print expo type deal, with a lot of great artists and zinesters with their prints, zines, comics, silkscreens, etc. Koyama Press and Liz Worth (Treat Me Like Dirt, PostApoc) were notably there with their works. I ended up getting two issues of a short comic called Dumb by Georgia Webber. The ‘series’ is about her ‘prolongued voice loss, and the slow crawl of recovery’. There’s not a ton of story in the two short issues, but the art style is cool and minimal and it is kind of interesting to see how voice loss affects her whole life. She has to quite her job and go on welfare and it’s just not a great situation. Hope she recovers soon and her life can get back to normal – in the meantime, I hope she writes longer comics or combines more issues into one kind of graphic novel, because my biggest complaint is that the issues are too short.

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There’s a dude inside this.

After the print expo I was off to a cool little space called Silence to see the Nihilist Spasm Band, perhaps the longest running noise band in the world. Originating in London, Ontario, the band has been together since 1965. They looked like the coolest, craziest grandparents in the world playing for a bunch of twenty-something/thirty-something hipsters. Admittedly, noise bands aren’t really my thing, so while I totally respected their ability to pull it off so stylishly (there is an art to noise-making – some are better at it than others), I didn’t need to hear that much before I was ready to leave.

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Unfortunately, this picture doesn’t quite capture the storm of sound they were making. Try the clip below from their younger days.

Next stop: My Own Shortcomings ‘mixed media exhibition by Hugh Mater‘. There wasn’t really that much mixing of media other than a dude playing old singles played at the wrong speed (slow, which actually made them sound pretty interesting), but there was some cool art. I’m not an art critic, but I liked it. Here are some pictures.

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After a breather and a curry wrap, it was time for EONS at the Red Brick Cafe. The solo project of Bruce Peninsula‘s Matt Cully, EONS‘ music is very traditional folk. Helping him out with pitch-perfect harmonies (and impressively snappy jibes) was another Bruce Peninsula member, Misha Bower. While EONS was maybe too traditionally folk for my tastes, their songs were well-crafted, tuneful, lyrically sound, and their performance was likewise faultless.

After another break for food, I was off to Cornerstone for Guelph’s Shopkeeper, a band I can describe most succinctly as being very ‘Canadian indie-rock’-sounding. Which is a good thing. It’s comforting, homey, Canadian.

And finally, the act of the night that I’d been waiting for, Mike Feuerstack: an artist who’d be a millionaire if critical praise could be converted into cash. I’ve written a lot about Feuerstack over the years, having loved his work with The Wooden Stars (Julie Doiron and The Wooden Stars is a classic), his work under the Snailhouse pseudonym, and most recently his work under his own name. When I was in the IDF, I remember listening to him obsessively while stationed on the Syrian border, as his work also sounds very ‘Canadian indie’ and it reminded me of home sweet snowy home.

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I’ve seen him play twice before. This time he was playing solo with an electric guitar and a beautiful sounding tube amp. Far moreso than Bry Webb and Destroyer – the other bigger names who played solo for the fest – Feuerstack’s songs lose the least when performed sans backing. Sure, on his records there’s a lot of beautiful padding, but most of his songs only require a guitar and vocals to sound full and perfect. And despite him charmingly forgetting lyrics and chords a couple times, Feuerstack effortless kills it every performance. With his sensitive cooing voice, and song after song full of pretty hooks and chord changes, he doesn’t need to try to perform well at this point in his career, he just does.

At this point, after two nights out till the wee small hours and couch-crashing, I was pretty beat. I soldiered on to Jimmy Jazz to check out explosive punk instrumentalists Bleet – who were phenomenal – but a couple songs in I decided to call it a night.

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The next morning there was a pancake breakfast show co-presented by Weird Canada. This was a brilliant way to end the fest, as all the artists and volunteers and frequent faces of the fest congregated together – many with their little kids – and just chilled, talked, ate pancakes (including vegan ones!). I caught experimental acts Eden Segal-Grossman and Isla Craig (pictured above), but their music – solid as it was – was more a background for good vibes and great food. Every festival should end like this.

And so the time came for me to trudge on over to the GO bus station and grab the bus back to Toronto. It had been an incredible weekend. Though Kazoo! Fest was perhaps a festival with a limited budget – all of the biggest acts played without their backing bands – it made up in heart and quality what it lacked in cash. Guelph is small but charming, with lots of friendly, interesting, intelligent people, and a ratio of women:men that puts the perennial sausage-fest that is Toronto’s downtown scene to shame. Every show was well-attended and people came out ready and willing to make friends and become fans. Though by this time next year I’ll be living in New York, maybe I’ll even make the trek up to the great white North to see what happens for next Kazoo! Fest.

Kazoo! Fest: Day 3 (11/04/14)

April 12th, 2014 | Features | 0 Comments

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The third day of the festival was most notable for featuring the two biggest acts of the festival: Bry Webb (of Constantines) and Destroyer. Both played acoustic sets in the Dublin St. United Church – indeed, a pretty nice setting for acoustic stuff.

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The kick-off event of the night, the show began at eight with Bry Webb‘s set. Accompanied by Rich Burnett on lap steel guitar, Webb played a set of songs that one could reasonably presume were off his first solo album Provider and the upcoming Free Will (I haven’t heard anything off either). While the songs were fairly solid folk-ish tunes – admittedly lacking in hooks and a particularly strong flavour (though the more fleshed out recordings sound far more rustic) – Webb’s wonderfully full and mature voice – still one of the best voices in contemporary indie rock – was clearly the biggest asset on display. As phenomenal as he is tearing up his vocal chords in front of the powerhouse that is Constantines onstage (and in-studio), he sounds nearly as good on his own, and it doesn’t hurt that his lyrics are particularly inspired regardless of backing, setting, whatever.

I’ve seen Destroyer play two or three times now, both solo acoustic and with a full band. While he’s charming on his own, the fact is he is incomparably better accompanied by his backing band. Some of the earlier material  - anything pre-Your Blues - sounds more or less fine acoustic, but anything after – especially everything off 2011′s incredible Kaputt – lacks all the nuances and melodies that his band provides and simply sound skeletal and lacking. I’ve yet to see Dan Bejar give a bad performance, but the fact is that an acoustic Destroyer set is a compromise in place of the ‘real thing’.

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After a peak into the packed eBar to catch a couple minutes of the jazzy Manatee, I made my way over to Jimmy Jazz to catch some of Watershed Hour‘s set. The Whitby all-girl duo featured one 90′s haired chick storming the drum kit in true 90′s alt-rock fashion while another alternated between bass and guitar while valiantly attempting to manage her pedals with her toes. It was pretty chaotic and sounded like crazy kids going nuts with their ‘rock and roll musics’ in the garage, but their conviction was admirable and ultimately made for a good show. Unfortunately, their poorly-produced online recordings capture almost nothing of this.

Back over at eBar, Petra Glynt took the stage to deliver her whole weird solo sample-core shtick. This was the second time I’ve seen her and while I respect her experimentalism, I’m still not really enjoying it. That could change at some point in the future, though. I like her ideas and general vision – and I didn’t totally come around to the not-entirely-dissimilar Grimes until she put out her game-changing Visions in 2012.

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Toronto’s DIANA closed the night with one of the best performances of the festival. I’ve been a fan of lead-singer Carmen Elle for years and it was great to see her new band live for the first time after enjoying their album Perpetual Surrender for the last couple months. They got on pretty late and eBar wasn’t quite as packed as it had been earlier, but DIANA brought no shortage of energy and character to a faultless set of songs. Kieran Adams‘ live electronic percussion was especially amazing.

Kazoo! Fest: Day 2 (10/04/14)

April 11th, 2014 | Features | 0 Comments

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Unfortunately I missed the first day of Guelph’s charming Kazoo! Fest, but I got in yesterday (Thursday) to begin my coverage of the five-day-long (sort of) fest and so far it’s been fun.

The first event was a showcase for some video works, including one with a live score.

Taking place inside of the quaint St. Andrew’s Church, the showcase began with The Impermanence Of The Ordinary, a short film about photographer Patrick Cummins‘ work photographing Toronto’s houses and storefronts as they change over time. Cummins was present to introduce the film, which was an interesting look at, indeed, a very ordinary subject that, upon closer inspection, inspires some interesting thoughts about what the architecture of a city says about its history, culture and architecture as it changes over time. You can actually watch it in its entirety on Vimeo.

The second film of the night, and my favourite, was This Is Now Here, Toronto-based photographer and music video director Colin Medley‘s short film about the Sackville, New Brunswick music scene and its annual Stereophonic FestivalFeist once spoke in an interview about how one can only truly appreciate Canada if one sees the great empty spaces and small towns between the big cities. These words were already echoing in my head as I rode the bus from Toronto to Guelph, and this film fit in well with the idea. Indeed, there is something beautiful and romantic in the glimpses someone from the city gets of small town (or small city) life in the relatively empty spaces of the great white North. Medley’s film portrays Sackville as this tiny, snowy little town in the lonesome Maritime where a bunch of University kids get together and make really cool music in small, intimate spaces. Huddled together in badly lit rooms, toques and scarves still on, the kids in the video appeared to truly have a secret but wonderful little scene of interesting and inspired noisemakers. Visually touching, with a perfectly restrained ambient score by Mike Smith, Medley’s film is a snow-covered gem of beautiful Canadiana. Luckily, it’s also streaming in its entirety on Vimeo.

The last work of the event was called Foster and was an experimental video soundtracked by a live band. Admittedly, the video itself was not all that impressive, as it largely consisted of random stuttering footage of ordinary thing (walls, basements, people), a hick-ish seeming Canadian, and kaleidoscopic effects. Maybe it was meant to be some kind of Gummo-esque look at a small town Canadian guy – I’m not really sure. The live band, however, was excellent, ably providing a phenomenal post-rock score with different sections and shifting rhythms (pounded out by two drummers) to compliment the segments of the video.

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Next stop was eBar, where a couple bands provided the rest of the night’s festival entertainment. I’m sorry to say I was kind of bored by the theatrics of The Medicine Hat and The Furys, who simply didn’t provide the strong songs to justify their powerful stages presences. Long-running, long-beloved Halifax indie-garage drums-guitar duo Cousins closed the night with a lot less people onstage, but a lot more hooks, power, and mosh-age.

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Re-evaluated // 16 Lovers Lane

April 3rd, 2014 | Features | 0 Comments

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Re-evaluated is a feature in which albums that are under-appreciated get some much deserved love in the form of a little blog write up. Hey, better than nothing. 

The focus of this week’s re-evaluated album is the 1988 classic 16 Lovers Lane by Brisbane’s The Go-Betweens. If you have never heard of the band or the album it is indeed tragic but not surprising – sometimes great bands just never get their due (or it just hasn’t come yet). Basically, The Go-Betweens are like the Australian Big Star: an incredible pop band that wrote brilliant should-have-been-hit songs that simply weren’t. Or at least they weren’t as big as they should have been, as the band did have some success in their home country and their sometimes-home-base of the UK. But here in North America their success and legacy has been, and is, almost nonexistent.

The band’s masterpiece appears undoubtedly to be the last album of the ‘original lineup’, the aforementioned 16 Lovers Lane. The album’s ten songs range from pretty good to astoundingly beautiful both musically and lyrically, but its best songs, like “Love Goes On”, “Your Quiet Quiet Heart”, “Streets Of Your Town” and “Dive For Your Memory”, have the timeless feel of the hits you listen to when first falling in love. They’re so perfect and poignant with lines like, “There’s a cat in my alleyway/Dreaming of birds that are blue/Sometimes girl when I’m lonely/This is how I think about you” and “If the cliffs were any closer/If the water wasn’t so bad/I’d dive for your memory/On the rocks and the sand.” It would appear that the album’s big, beautiful, often tragic sentiments were brought out by the ending of the relationship between one of the band’s principle songwriter’s, Grant McLennan, and bandmate Amanda Brown.

16 Lovers Lane is the kind of album that should be listed in top 100 albums of all time lists. It just has that classic album feel, as though it’s reached that sphere of quality reserved only for the greats. The Go-Betweens made a lot of good music, but none of their albums feel as absolute and perfect as this one. To be fair, few albums exist that do. Please seek it out and listen to it. If there’s such a thing as criminally under-appreciated, this album may be the ultimate example.

“מנגינות ישראליות: “גרמניה

March 23rd, 2014 | Features | 0 Comments

Okay, I left Israel two months ago and I have no plans to go back for at least a year or two – I need a break from that crazy country – but every now and then I come back to this song, which in English would be called “Germany”. It’s by an artist named Dudu Tesa who I know nothing about. Honestly, I don’t really care, because I don’t think he’s that good, but the song is very interesting. I remember hearing it for the first time on the radio one day when the army was giving another lone soldier and I a ride to Jersualem from our base in Hebron. I remember thinking that I didn’t like the mainstream-y radio production, but the song’s odd synth-poppyness and its epic, almost suite-comprised construction all were very interesting. It goes from one section to another, new, totally different, a number of times and each is filled with inventive melodies and lush synth-chestra paddings that at times sound Magical Mystery Tour Beatles-esque.

As for the lyrics, after reading them, it seems as though it’s a story about a guy – presumably Israeli – who’s in a relationship with a girl who wants to move to Germany and maybe start a family there. (Note: this is not an unheard of thing in Israel; for a cool, young person to want to move to Germany where living is easier and there’s more exciting culture – despite the history of the Jews with the country.) The guy, however, does not want to move to Germany – very likely because of the historical stuff – and so they’re arguing about everything and it’s not clear if this relationship is going to last much longer. It’s a very interesting example of how the personal lives of Israelis are so tightly and inextricably bound with politics and history.

Re-evaluated // Songs From Northern Britain

March 6th, 2014 | Features | 0 Comments

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Sometimes albums come out and for some reason or other they’re just not given the appreciation they deserve. Or sometimes great albums come out, are enjoyed, but then unfairly forgotten, while others become beloved classics. In this new feature, Reevaluated, I’ll take a second look at great albums that deserve to be remembered and cherished but for some reason just aren’t. This week’s pick is Glasgow-based Teenage Fanclub‘s 1997 album Songs From Northern Britain.

Though Songs From Northern Britain was hardly an ignored release – becoming their highest charting album in the UK; named by Nick Hornby as one of his favourite albums; receiving glowing reviews – when people hear about Teenage Fanclub these days, the album that gets all the attention is 1991′s Bandwagonesque, and mainly because it edged out R.E.M.‘s  Out Of Time, Nirvana‘s Nevermind, and My Bloody Valentine‘s Loveless for Spin’s Album Of The Year title, in a choice that today seems ludicrous. While Bandwagonesque is still a great album, today it sounds somewhat tame and dated.

Songs From Northern Britain, on the other hand, sounds like a power-pop lovers wet dream, with track after track of big hooks and gorgeous harmonies. Musically and lyrically it’s better than Bandwagonesque while also featuring better (less-dated-sounding) production, and overall it’s more consistent. Tracks like “Ain’t That Enough” and “Take The Long Way Round” in particular simply glisten with pure harmonic pop glory.

Admittedly the album does sound a little dated – but only a little – and all of Teenage Fanclub‘s singers always had kinda blandish voices. But sometimes great songwriting overcomes all obstacles, meanwhile all the gifts in the world often can’t make up for poor songwriting. Songs From Northern Britain is a stellar case of the former, and should be the album we talk about when we talk about Teenage Fanclub. And we should talk about Teenage Fanclub more to begin with, cuz they were and continue to be a great band.

Obscurity Points // Yukihiro Takahashi

February 18th, 2014 | Features | 0 Comments

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I first heard Japanese electronic/synth-pop artist Yukihiro Takahashi last week when Alex Low (Hellaluya) was DJing Jef Barbara‘s show and he played Takahashi’s “Drip Dry Eyes”. I found out the song using Shazam and later looked him up online.

Turns out Takahashi’s greatest claim to fame is as drummer and lead singer of the influential Japanese electronic band Yellow Magic Orchestra. However, Takahashi’s been putting out solo albums since 1978, apparently most notably Neuromantic, a solid collection of English synth-pop songs that includes the aforementioned “Drip Dry Eyes”. Though not particularly incredible or unique among the era’s many synth-pop albums, it’s aged fairly well and in the light of 2014′s reassessment of 80s sounds and styles feels like a minor lost treasure.

If anyone wants to recommend other Takahashi (or Japanese rock) works for me to check out or post about in Obscurity Points, let me know in the comments.

מנגינות ישראליות: שלמה גרוניך ולהקת שבא

January 17th, 2014 | Features | 0 Comments

Today I was cleaning out the papers in my room on the kibbutz and I found the lyrics to this song we heard when I was at Michve Alon, at the beginning of my service. It’s a song called “Journey To Israel” by Israeli songwriter Shlomo Gronich performed by the Sheba Choir, which is made up of Ethiopian-Israelis. It’s called the Sheba Choir because one of the traditions of the Ethiopian-Jews is that they are descendants of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, who, according to the bible, came to visit him and see his kingdom. Tradition holds that in between the written lines in the Torah, Solomon – a known ladies man with something like 1000 wives – hooked up with her and they had a child who would found Ethiopian Jewry. Scholarly research goes against this tradition, but hey, it’s still a great story.

The song above is a touching account of a mother and her sons enduring a treacherous march on their way to Israel. The song reflects the experience of many Ethiopian-Israelis: while thousands of Ethiopian Jews were airlifted to Israel in the 80s and 90s by the Israeli and American governments, many also set out on foot to the holy land and survived numerous difficulties along the way. Below are the lyrics. Admittedly the song can get a little cheesy sounding, but I still think it has a great melody and its tale and the way it’s told are really moving and tragic.

The moon is watching from above
On my back is a light bag of food
The desert beneath me has no end ahead

And my mother promises my little brothers
“A little more, a little more
lift up your legs, a last push
towards Jerusalem”


The moonlight stood fast
Our bag of food was lost.
The endless desert
Cries of jackals


And my mother comforts my little brothers
“A little bit more, a little more
soon we’ll be redeemed
we won’t stop going
to the land of Israel”


And at night bandits attacked
With a knife and a sharp sword
In the desert, the blood of my mother


The moon is my witness and I promise my brothers
“A little bit more, a little more
The dream will be fulfilled
Soon we will arrive in the land of Israel.”


In the moon the image of my mother looks at me
Mother doesn’t disappear
If only she were by my side
she would be able to convince them
that I am a Jew.

Top 10 Albums Of 2013: #5-1

December 22nd, 2013 | Features | 0 Comments

If you missed the first (bottom) half of this list, you can check it out here. Here’s the top five for 2013.

5. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories

This album was really exciting because it was one of those rare works of music that everybody loves: young, old, hipster, mainstreamer, radio station, blog, etc. – if it was all great for everyone, then there was at least something on here for everyone. For the cool kids there was Panda Bear and Julian Casablancas, and for the radio-listeners there were two Pharrell tracks, including the song of the summer, “Get Lucky”. Who didn’t like “Get Lucky”? Seriously. Everyone loved that song.

4. The Strokes – Comedown Machine

After the shittiness of Angles everyone basically gave up hope that The Strokes would ever make another great album. Even an album that was pretty good seemed unlikely. Because really, in our minds The Strokes are from a dead movement of a past era: The White Stripes broke up years ago, The Hives have become totally irrelevant, The Vines (?)…Admittedly, when this album came out, I also gave it a pretty lukewarm reception, with my highest compliment basically being that it had some good points, but like everyone else, I wanted the badass old leather-jacket-Strokes back. The only thing that really caught me was the sleek opener, “Tap Out”. I kept coming back to the album because of it, but then I’d keep listening, and each time I did, I found myself enjoying songs like “All The Time” and “Slow Animals” more and more. These songs really do pack some great hooks, they just seem to reveal themselves slowly, clawing their way past our memory of “the old Strokes”. Eventually I came to enjoy the entire album other than last track “Call It Fate, Call It Karma”, which is dumb and I’ve just deleted it off my computer entirely. But what I’m left with are ten excellent pop songs by a band that still has a killer sound and an interesting, exciting lead singer. Every time I put it on I enjoy it immensely.

3. Kanye West – Yeezuz

Kanye continues his winning streak after the reality-smashing My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. I didn’t find Yeezus to be better than that masterpiece, but it is more artistic and challenging. The first time I listened to it, I didn’t enjoy it, but I knew it was a work of serious quality. I could feel it. Now I enjoy it and moreso with each listen. “Blood On The Leaves” is phenomenal, a centrepiece that gives the album that essential injection of sensitivity to stand alongside the harshness of “Black Skinhead” and “New Slaves”.

Say what you will about his persona, he remains an incredible and inscrutable 21st century artist.

2. My Bloody Valentine – m b v

The not-so-little comback that could. m b v should not have met (and exceeded some) expectations, but luckily it did. It appears Kevin Shields is a crazy genius, but unlike most geniuses in music and movies, his genius has apparently not faded with age. What’s there to say about this album? It’s gorgeous. It’s interesting. It’s not really challenging – even on first listen the beauty and awesomeness of everything is apparent. It’s so good, it makes Loveless seem less good. I think that’s possibly the only ‘bad’ thing about it.

So, when’s the follow up coming out, eh Kevin?

1. Arcade Fire – Reflektor

Arcade Fire have a habit of making things epic, but the fact that they’ve been able to pump out four masterpieces in a row with little sign of wear n’ tear is astounding. Even more astounding is that I think Reflektor is their best album ever – it’s big, epic, it swings, it has classic after classic – even a song written from the perspective of homosexuals addressing homophobic bigots (“We Exist”) that makes you want to dance to it. Never has an examination of the modern condition been so…physically infectious, and in the great way possible. And the songs are all like 6 minutes long but almost never get boring, and even in the more boring songs (like everyone’s least favourite song, “Porno”), there’s some redemptive section or element to make it worth listening to. But man, when this album soars – “Reflektor”, “Joan Of Arc”, “Afterlife” – it’s untouchable. Even before this thing dropped, I could tell by the confidence and chutzpa of “Reflektor” that this album was going to be the year’s best – I’m happy to say I wasn’t wrong at all.

Top 10 Albums Of 2013: #10-6

December 20th, 2013 | Features | 1 Comment

I wouldn’t say it’s been a particularly good year for music, but there were a number of great releases, including at least three legit masterpieces. I also probably missed out on a lot what with being in the army and all, but I’ve tried to keep up with what’s going on in the musical world and think I’ve done alright, all things considered. Here’s the first half of my top albums of the year – the rest will be up tomorrow.

10. The National – Trouble Will Find Me

The National sound a little swampy-er, a little sleaker, and a little less consistent both musically and lyrically, but still, Trouble Will Find Me is a great album with some of the band’s best songs yet. “Don’t Swallow The Cap”, “Sea Of Love”, and “Graceless” all find the band swinging home runs almost as hard and powerful as “Mistaken For Strangers”, while closers “Pink Rabbits” and “Hard To Find” could make rocks weep with their beauty.

And lastly, Matt Berninger’s voice sounds perhaps better than ever, which is saying something.

9. Bored Nothing – Bored Nothing

A bedroomy album by a young dude from Australia who LOVES indie-rock inside-out? Sign me up. Bored Nothing‘s S/T debut album grabbed me with its all-too-perfect cover and held me till the last till the last guitar chime. The Elliott Smith-indebted heartbreakers along the way were all too perfect. A record of my own heart, but made by another’s.

8. Julia Holter – Loud City Song

If selling out means trading in your synthesizers for a stand-up base and smoky trumpet, then Holter totally sold out. I’m sure 1940′s Chicago will eat up her latest player but not us indie-kids of today, no-siree! Jokes – another beautiful album from a wonderful and always-interesting, inspired artist.

7. Waxahatchee – Cerulean Salt

The 90′s nostalgia continues! If only I could put my finger on exactly who they’re copying (suggestions anyone?). Cerulean Salt was a phenomenal album from this new-ish band, filled with great rockers and even the occasional deep cut (looking at you “Swan Dive”…). These guys made a name for themselves this year and with total justification – now Perfect Pussy just has to release something on which I can figure out what the hell is going on…

6. Deerhunter – Monomania

Deerhunter has definitely lost some of the hype they used to carry around with every project, but even as the band ditches much of the dream-pop that made them such a big deal, they’re having fun (I can only ever remember the sound of the rambunctious “Penscola” when thinking of this album) and writing better songs than 99% of the bands out there. And Bradford Cox will apparently always keep things interesting, no matter what he does.

TOMORROW – #5-1!